You'd be forgiven for not knowing exactly what's new about Apple's latest product, the iPhone SE. If it looks familiar, that's because it is. And it doesn't look particularly fancy, because it isn't. It's mostly an iPhone 8. It has TouchID, a single camera, and a 4.7-inch display. All of that is familiar. On the inside, however, it has some very real improvements.
Mostly, that's because of the A13 Bionic chip--the same processor found in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro series devices. As a result, this iPhone can do a few tricks you never saw from the iPhone 8. It can, for example, do some camera moves you used to have to spring for an iPhone 11--or at least an XR. It has HDR still shooting, all six lighting effects, portrait mode, and 4K video. Apple calls it the "best single-camera system," and the company is right. It is.
None of that, however, is why it's likely Apple's most important product this year. Instead, it's the $399 starting price, which will likely mean that Apple will sell a lot of of these iPhones.
We should probably stipulate that Apple's forthcoming 5G phone is likely to be a huge lift for the company, but the timeline for that launch is less certain in the midst of severe disruptions to companies across the globe. In fact, it's not even clear that we'll see those four models anytime soon.
While the company hasn't said anything about delaying the iPhone 12 series, there has been plenty of talk about whether it will actually be able to launch them within its traditional September window. No one even knows what September will look like, with Apple's stores closed outside of mainland China since March. The company hasn't even said when those will reopen.
The iPhone SE, on the other hand, was already far enough into production when the world came to a standstill, but the same isn't necessarily true for future products. In addition, the 5G iPhones will likely carry heftier price tags when they do launch. Don't get me wrong, they'll still sell like crazy. Everyone has been counting on that.
In the meantime, however, Apple has been quietly launching new products. In addition to the iPhone SE, it has already launched a new MacBook Air and a new iPad Pro in the last few weeks. Of those devices, there's no question that the iPhone SE has the ability to make the biggest impact in the short term since it opens the door to an entirely new market for Apple: low-priced smartphones.
Previously, this had been primarily the turf of Google's Pixel 3a and a few other Android devices. Now Apple has an iPhone to draw in new smartphone owners and price-sensitive users who are ready to upgrade. That's a big deal for a company that has previously only offered old models as a lower-priced option.
One last thing: In a world where people are being encouraged to wear face masks in public an iPhone with fingerprint authentication suddenly seems like a pretty good idea. It's hard to unlock your device when your face is covered by a mask.
The good news is, if you're in the market for a low-priced smartphone, you can now consider an iPhone--something that has never been true before. It's almost as if a nothing-fancy, high-powered version of an old familiar iPhone is exactly the boost Apple needs right now.